Facilitating Learning Over Bestowing Knowledge with Matt D. Smith (mds)

Testing out your content in some way before a full release can really improve the quality of your final product.

Matt D. Smith, better known around the internet as MDS, did a beta testing round before he released Shift Nudge. Learners still had to pay to access the beta, which resulted in a very invested group of testers. And, the course is hosted on Notion which gave learners the ability to leave feedback on content inline, and it was easy for Matt to make adjustments and even record new lessons.

Releasing Shift Nudge was different than the other products Matt has launched. It's more personal, and it can feel like the content is a reflection of you that people will judge. But, the best advice Matt has received about that is that as an educator you are not a grand knowledge holder, bestowing your knowledge upon people. Your job is to facilitate and guide people from the state of not knowing, to knowing.

Matt also discusses the lessons learned from the errors he made with offering a design feedback service to learners, and how the idea for Shift Nudge went from being a product design course to a visual design course.

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Joel: I'm so stoked to chat because one I'm a big fan of your work is something that, that we dug into and it's helped us in my business and getting like a better understanding of visual design. And your course is excellent and kind of was a Eureka moment for us in terms of using notion as a platform for delivering courses.

[00:00:18] And before we get into that, I have this little icebreaker where I'm just curious. How do you, when you sit down and you're about to learn something new, something complex, whether it's technical or otherwise, what is your approach to learning a new complex subject?

Learning style

[00:00:30] Matt D. Smith: Ooh, that's a great question. I'm typically kind of full immersion watch all the YouTube videos, read everything I can to, I guess it really depends on what it is, if it's something highly, specialized and I realize, okay, this is way, way too complex for me. I'm gonna have. Have someone else do this for me, but I either, even if it comes to that, I still think it's helpful to gain as much knowledge as you possibly can.

[00:00:56] Just even to ask questions to the expert that you may bring in, or, learn enough to do it on

[00:01:02] your own.

[00:01:02] Joel: think that's interesting and I don't think anybody else has answered this question hire somebody. And that makes me really curious. What does that look like? You'll get in and you're like, I need a specialist to come in and either do this for you or teach you, or how does that work when you

[00:01:15] Matt D. Smith: Well, I'm kind of actually thinking in the world of like home renovation stuff right now.

[00:01:19] Cause we have like stuff

[00:01:20] Joel: Yeah.

Hiring experts

[00:01:21] Matt D. Smith: and so like for example, we have a lot of concrete we needed to get poured and we were like looking for a very specific texture. So I'm like, I'm watching videos. I'm messaging people on Instagram who have done like, concrete work that looks amazing.

[00:01:34] I'm like what finish are you using? And so I'm like transferring that information to the person that we eventually hired. But on the tech side, like I can write some JavaScript and I can do a few things with code, but if it gets too complex or if there's databases involved, Or, really any backend work.

[00:01:53] That's just, I know that I don't have the efficiency or the time to invest to go down that path myself. So I will end up just either hiring someone, just literally reaching out to someone that I know has done that type of work before or, kind of reach out to my network to see if I can find something to

[00:02:12] Joel: funny for me, cuz and you talk about home improvement and DIY and that sort of thing. And I'm always like sure I can hang drywall, but I can't do it very well because I. It every day. And there's like a certain point where you're like, well, I could just hire an expert and get this done. I don't want to be an expert in this subject.

[00:02:26] I need to just get an expert to handle this. And that's it, or hire an expert to learn from too, which is always an option as well.

[00:02:33] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. And I I think that's, it's more of a. don't know, year question, 10 year question. Like, do I want to be good at this? And do I want to rely on myself for this? Or do I know, is it just a one time thing? Does it anybody, does it need to be good enough for now? Or, I'm not gonna start a drywall career anytime soon.

[00:02:52] Joel: Yeah, you're not look you, you're not looking to have a concrete business.

[00:02:55] Matt D. Smith: if I have to repair a wall that my son, his skateboard into or whatever,

[00:03:00] you know, I can do that.

[00:03:01] Joel: And in that case, I'm like, well, you're gonna have to get on the YouTube and learn how to

[00:03:04] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. Yeah,

[00:03:05] Joel: it yourself cuz you know,

[00:03:06] Matt D. Smith: And then it's a question of how long do I want that hole to be there?

[00:03:09] Joel: yeah, there you're going, how bad do you want it to look afterwards too? So speaking of like hiring experts and to me in some ways, if you buy a book or take a course you are starting a relationship with an expert and learning from them up to it, including like direct, direct mentorship.

[00:03:24] Right. Do you take courses? Are you a course taker?

Making the key points stick

[00:03:26] Matt D. Smith: I have taken the occasional course related to like business or I've taken some Ramit sat courses.

[00:03:35] Joel: those are always good.

[00:03:36] Matt D. Smith: And yeah, I it really kind of, I haven't taken a ton of courses, but I think usually for me, it's like trying to find that a lot of times a course is like wrapped around like a couple of key principles. And if you can, sometimes you need, even a book, you read a 300 page book. And then you can break it down into like these three main things that they kept telling stories about and hammering in the points. And so, and if someone were to just read three bullet points to you, it wouldn't stick as much.

[00:04:07] Joel: Yeah, just float by.

[00:04:09] Matt D. Smith: yeah. And so, so I think it's kind of like for me, is like trying to figure out like what. What are those two sentences that I paid, a couple thousand dollars for, to like really make it stick and be meaningful. Because that was kind of in the realm of things I was

[00:04:24] Joel: I know like patterns and design is important to you. And I mean, design in the broad sense, not in the kind of the visual sense. And I'm wondering like what goes into a really good course from a design perspective that would help make it sticky and make it something that would last and be useful for you long term.

[00:04:40] Matt D. Smith: You mean from like a design course

What makes a good course

[00:04:42] Joel: No just when you, if you've taken a course and what, basically what makes a good course from your perspective as a learner

[00:04:47] Matt D. Smith: Yeah, think the best courses would have a very strong point of view in terms of like who it's trying to teach and what level they're at. First of all, like a solid baseline. This course is for X person

[00:05:00] You can add any number of variables to make it but then also like you have your starting point. and Then I think the best course would know exactly what the finishing point is as well. So you're taking someone from a to B and you're getting them there, as fast as possible without sacrificing inequality. And then once, once they're at the beep or finish line location, what evidence shows that they now, are indeed there. I think some, some courses are gonna give you the like kind of point you in that direction and maybe it's, I'm not gonna take a masterclass on, throwing a curve ball and then all of a sudden join the MLB. In six months, cuz I took this course, I'm

[00:05:44] gonna have an idea of how to get there.

[00:05:45] So I think, there, and there's also some like expectations to set as well. But I think that's how I viewed a really good course, just like starting point ending point and being able to, to at least speak to or prove show evidence that you've, achieved that.

[00:06:02] Joel: Yeah, they kind of, but transfer skills where you can apply it to new situations and so that you truly understand it because now you can take that and use it in your day to day.

[00:06:11] Matt D. Smith: Right. I mostly describe it

[00:06:11] Joel: How do you describe shift nudge, which is your course, and it's focused on kind of web development and visual design and mobile development.

What is Shift Nudge

[00:06:17] Joel: How do you describe that to folks when

[00:06:19] Matt D. Smith: making. Everything that goes into the visual side of design, like all of the tiny details to make, beautiful interfaces. So everything from typography, color layout,

[00:06:29] all

[00:06:29] Of those, like really nerdy, tiny details that go into, just making something look beautiful as it relates to interface design and product design. So I, for the longest time I was, I had written an entire curriculum. Or at least the outline for both a kind of like a product slash user experience design course a visual design course. Cause I was like, oh, this is what I do. I don't really, I'm never necessarily only focused on the visuals. I'm always keeping in mind like how that relates to the product, the information density, you know what, there's always a part of. Both sides of your brain, that's thinking about the experience and how it looks. So I was thinking, well, I'll just, I'll just make a course how I would normally approach a product. And then as I talked to more people and I consulted with other people, as I was trying to put everything together this one lady told me, she was like, there might be people who already, know a lot about user experience and they just want to know. All of the visual things and you can, it's a lot easier to drill down on a specific subject than it is to teach it really broad. And I was like, and I'd already invested so much time in putting together the outline and I'd written half the curriculum. And then I ended up like cutting it in half and then redoing the entire outline based on some of that feedback. That's a really long example explanation of what my course is about, but that's kind of how it came to be at least. And so now it's easier to explain because it's, it really is those really nerdy details about what makes great design for interfaces. And I, there is like a user experience lens and you will gain some insight into my design process, but it's all about the visual side. And that's kind of how I explain it now because that's, the process that led me to create it that way.

[00:08:09] Joel: One of the things that struck me, like as a learner taking your course was when you get into it. And the initial sections felt like a really good introduction to design in the broad sense, right? Like, cause I view design as something that, that. Like there's visual and user experience and instructional design and design is just a part of our life, with intention, if you will, but you had a really good kind of worldview that you exposed to folks front, which I was really appreciated.

[00:08:33] Matt D. Smith: Awesome. Yeah I spent, I mean, looking back at like the outline and the curriculum and the lessons, it really, it almost seemed simple like, oh yeah, of course you'll have a starting module. And then of course these would be the initial lessons. But I, it took me so long, when you think of just blank canvas it was like, I must have spent, six months or more on just the outline and trying to piece it And cuz I, I really wanted it to be really valuable, really impactful. And I was like, there's no way I could just jump right into to fonts size without some type of like meaningful. Here's how I think about design. Here's my mindset for design, for learning, choosing software, here's my design process some overarching things.

[00:09:19] And I think that also makes a good course as well. I think you almost need to, I at least with the bigger topics that you're trying to, maybe you're, a lot of people are trying to switch careers

[00:09:30] An interface designer or a UI So I think that requires a lot more than, okay.

[00:09:34] Here's how the rectangle tool works in Figma and here's, we're gonna jump straight into making frames and all this stuff. You kind of need a little bit of like a introduction and maybe not so much for, here's how a course about animating objects with JavaScript. You might not need a big introduction other than maybe like, here's why you might do these things.

[00:09:52] So I, think it, it also just kind of made me feel good. In a selfish way. It's like, all right, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, a lot of people have this, like, I don't know why in the UX world, maybe even in the just designers in general, you could even broaden that to just people in

[00:10:08] general are extremely opinionated.

[00:10:11] Especially with their process, JavaScript framework or not, or, Figma or sketch, or should you wire frame or not. And. Yeah, so I just kind of wanted lay it out all on the table. Like, this is what I think about these things, and this is what you need to keep in mind while I'm teaching this content.

[00:10:26] Because, if you disagree from the very beginning maybe, you might need to just, get a refund, look elsewhere because this is kind of like my approach. And if we're not like hitting it off and nodding our heads together in agreement at the very beginning, then, it might not work.

[00:10:40] Joel: I say you had me nodding my head vigorously in the first parts of it. And I think what's interesting is what you talk about. And it's like a practitioner that's been doing this for a long time, has built up a system and worldview over time. And I talked to my friend Marie Powell who helps people build notion workspaces as an educator.

[00:10:56] And at first it was like, here is the full, the kitchen sink. And people would just get kind of sad and confused and you can't even start and then has switched sense to like, let's build a system together because you were going to have your own system to understand this. You can't just drop into my system.

[00:11:11] You need to develop your own, but here's the kind of the initial building blocks to start climbing the ladder.

[00:11:15] Matt D. Smith: Yeah, a absolutely.

Research process

[00:11:17] Joel: You mentioned talking to people. And I thought that was interesting. And I was curious about your research pro process specifically for shift nudge, but I would assume it's kind of similar for other projects as well.

[00:11:26] What's your research approach when you start thinking about a new product or course.

[00:11:30] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. I don't know why every time If I've ever done a, like a work, a design workshop at a conference, or even just, shift node, students, even asking like, user research. I think there's like a. Maybe there's a stigma around quote unquote user research,

[00:11:46] Be this like extremely formal process.

[00:11:48] And, oh, I read this, agile framework for systematically interviewing users and it sounds like almost like, am I doing this wrong? Like it, I don't know. It just, I, so I like to just think of research as just simply asking question. And just reaching out to people, asking them questions, that information, and then making decisions based on those answers. And that's as simple as I, I mean, that's, I guess as complex as I like to get with I like to just ask people questions and listen to their answers and, maybe they're a little more open ended. Maybe they're a little more leading depending on what I'm trying to figure out, but. I, I first, I think the very first that I asked about this particular course was sending, uh, an email, like research survey to my like email list. And it was less about like, what do you want out of a visual design course, but more, it was like, Hey, here's four course ideas that I'm thinking of.

[00:12:48] That would be, I know that I could teach these things, which one. Are you gravitating more towards, and I think it was along the lines of like product design, like systematic processes all things related to like creating a product from beginning to end specifically, like for freelance work, contract work, things like that. And then the second one was, interface, design all the bits and pieces of learning, how to make beautiful interface. Which those two are definitely like really related. But I think you could, you can definitely break them apart. The other one was like designers, learning CSS. I was thinking about teaching like a CSS course or something just specifically from a designer's perspective, like, forget about all the complex stuff.

[00:13:27] Like how can we wrangle some CSS to make things look good in a browser? And then the last one was like, some I, at the time I had like an introduction to icon design course that I had just released is actually still active intro to icons.com. I was thinking about creating maybe like a premium version of that one, because that one's free. And then, based on the, I guess the results from the survey. It was pretty the majority was like obvious everybody on my email list at least wanted a, an interface design course and followed like by a close second product design. So I just decided to go with that one because, Hey, I'm gonna, I wanted to be successful for, both the people that are already kind of like waiting on something.

[00:14:07] And also just, from a it's interesting trying to balance like student success and business success. Those aren't necessarily always easy to align. So I wanted to make sure that was as aligned as possible from the very beginning, because it's really tough to from doing consulting, work and design for clients, and then be able to like focus fully on like a really huge robust curriculum. Course like shift, nudge. So was kind of daunting, I'm like this, if I screw this up, I'm go. I'm gonna like,

What makes producing courses different than other products

[00:14:38] Joel: As material affects on you and your family,

[00:14:40] Matt D. Smith: Yeah, exactly.

[00:14:41] Joel: You, aren't new to developing products. You have a kind of a suite of products that you've released over the years. And I'm wondering is creating a course different or do you approach it differently or is it similar in terms of just kind of, of fundamentally the approach and the research process

[00:14:55] Matt D. Smith: I think it, you could simplify it and say that it's similar,

[00:14:59] Would, I will say that. The other products that I've released are extremely simple compared to a course like the little contrast, color picker thing. It's a extremely simple little app. The flow kit stuff that I've done is pretty simple.

[00:15:14] You're drawing arrows one, you're checking colors, one you're drawing arrows. there's not a lot of complexity to it.

[00:15:19] At the, high level. But with the course I think the hardest thing, the most complex thing that I encountered when developing a course is just I like to think of myself as a pretty decent I can explain things. I'm, I like to step by step, explain things to peers and clients, and, day to day work with clients, even, I feel like a lot of it is. Teaching someone why we should go with this instead of that. So it was kind of a natural progression for me, but I, I found that one of the most difficult things was just trying to, get outta my own head in terms of this should be for everyone or no, this should be just for this person or, oh, this lessons stupid.

[00:15:56] This is this sucks. Nobody's gonna care about this. So I think, I don't know, maybe because it's more like you're putting more of your own. Knowledge on the table. Uh, I know it's, it's not necessarily all about a knowledge transfer. I think it's more about taking someone from point a to point B, whether that's with your own knowledge or with your own resource curating or, other thing.

[00:16:17] But I, I think it's like a, more of a I don't know, it's like a it produces a lot of anxiety and while you're trying to do it, you're like, oh my gosh, like I'm gonna talk myself out of. Whereas a product. I think you're maybe you're detached a little bit more personally.

[00:16:29] Joel: Yeah, it's more like a tool versus, I don't know, like you're trying to help a person achieve an objective either way. Like they use your tool to do this but there is a lot more depth, I think, to the to shift, nudge over, over a plugin for Figma, for example it's just like, that does a specific thing and it either does it, or doesn't do it.

[00:16:46] Versus shift, nudge where it's a huge gradient of potential outcomes that people are seeking. And it needs to kinda line up with all of those and effectively help them get from point a to point B, achieve whatever it is in their life, which certainly isn't like, nobody wakes up and thinks, I'm gonna do, I'm gonna take a course today.

[00:17:02] That's what I'm gonna do. That's not what they're trying to do is take courses. They're actually trying to achieve something. So it's like this kind of a struggle to get them there, I guess.

[00:17:10] Matt D. Smith: Exactly. You always love the drill and the whole analogy where it's like,

[00:17:14] I'm gonna wake up and use a drill today. And, people are like, oh, and actually you don't even want a hole. You just want, the cord to go through the hole to power your laptop, or you know what, that you can abstract it out like 10 different times.

[00:17:25] Joel: I don't know if we're ready to get into a jobs to be done discussion Matt

[00:17:28] Matt D. Smith: yeah, probably not.

[00:17:30] Joel: So, and just kind of related, and it is related to that. And other things, do you have a, like a Like a framework for instructional design or is that something you studied or how do you approach instructional design in general?

Approach to Instructional Design

[00:17:40] Matt D. Smith: Yeah, I don't have a great, let me look into my filing cabinet really quickly and pull out my, 10 steps to instructional design. I think for me, I almost approached. I can draw some similarities between even, user experience design and, teaching someone how to use typography for interface design.

[00:17:58] I, I think, cuz that in a way you're leading you're trying to determine where someone is and where they're trying to go. And I'm just, I'm trying to apply that I guess, to each lesson and each. One like one, I don't know, like one module for example is trying to take you from beginning to end.

[00:18:17] And then each lesson is like this little mini journey from a to B as well. I actually even consulted with this professor, a buddy of mine hooked me up with this professor of I don't know if it was continuing education, some professor of education at Clemson university. And he was like in charge of the global education. So anyway a lot of my curriculum and I had like couple of hour long conversations with him and he explained a lot of like his philosophy behind uh, just education in general and the process. And I found it to be. Almost like as much of a therapy session for myself, as opposed in addition to like instructional design learning, because it was like okay.

[00:18:57] I'm not like I'm not the grand, knowledge holder that is bestowing upon, I'm so blessed and I'm bestowing all this knowledge on all these people. It's like, no, I'm. I'm facilitating someone from not knowing to knowing and whether that's through my own experience, some exercises or, Hey, here's 10 articles that you can read. I think that made me feel a little bit better about, the instructional design process, where it's like, facilitating you to get from point a to point B versus, bestowing my grand knowledge on.

[00:19:26] Joel: it's funny. You said I don't have a, I can't reach into my file cabinet and get a book called the 10 steps. My favorite instructional design framework right now is literally called temps 10 steps to complex learning.

[00:19:37] Matt D. Smith: I think I saw you tweet that. And I think I bookmarked it and I was like, oh my gosh I remember reading through like the overview. And I was like, okay, this checks out. This sounds like what I did. Even if it was like a happy accident.

[00:19:49] Joel: Yeah. I mean, I love like I love a good framework, like regardless. I always, I really

[00:19:53] Matt D. Smith: no, I mean, honestly, I, I honestly do too. And I think I could probably benefit from, having a few more frameworks that I'm like legitimately trying to follow.

[00:20:02] Joel: yeah. This one, I, and I've studied a few and this one just was like, oh, this is it. And to me and you mentioned this and I truly think there's a lot to, this is user experience. Design is instructional design. And I think people sleep on instructional design and all of de research, cuz there's a ton of research in that area and you could apply this to like product development in a very real way.

[00:20:24] And it would benefit everybody involved

[00:20:26] Matt D. Smith: Exactly. I feel like.

[00:20:28] even this is maybe far fetched, but like, even if you're like trying to give someone direction, some. Some people are extremely bad at giving directions. And it's, I almost like cuz in order to give really good directions to drive somewhere or to, where I'm at in the stadium or wherever, whatever you're trying to do to give directions, like you almost have to imagine, that close your eyes and imagine where that person is, where they're

[00:20:53] driving, where they're walking.

[00:20:54] Okay. You're gonna see this sign when you see that, take a look, I feel like it's the exact same thing when you're designing an experience for a product you're, setting up a course and trying to guide someone through that whole process. I think it, it does go back to like communication and instructional design, even the, the root of graphic design is, called or considered communication design, and you're trying to communicate things visually.

[00:21:19] So I, yeah, I think there's, there's a lot of frameworks and things like that are maybe. Overlooked or was like, oh, this has actually existed for decades. And no, one's really regarded it because it doesn't have a cool trendy title on it.

[00:21:31] Joel: People like to rename and reinvent is something that I've noticed in technology in particular. And it's always a cycle of like, well, we're gonna come up with new names for these patterns that have existed for 75 years, because that's how we build our own name is by renaming something that, that our.

[00:21:44] Exists.

[00:21:44] Matt D. Smith: Totally.

What are the learner goals in Shift Nudge?

[00:21:46] Joel: So I'm curious and you've mentioned this idea of getting people from point a to point B and like understanding what their success is and what point B is for the learner. And I'm curious how do you know when a learner has achieved, what they're, they've set out to do with shift nudge?

[00:22:00] What's the kind of indicator for success that you look for?

[00:22:02] Matt D. Smith: that's tricky because I mean, I'm ultimately looking for, great design.

[00:22:07] design, Handling typography really well, color all those things together, layout nice spacing, negative space, all the things that and it's weird. It's I found it extremely difficult to take a some, I mean, there are definitely some objective principles when it comes to But some of those can be like, if you know them really well, you can actually break them and make something a little more interesting.

[00:22:28] Joel: pro.

[00:22:29] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. And so that makes it really difficult to like objectively say, this is exactly what I'm looking for, because if someone's really talented are really skillful. They could, check seven things out the list, but break three intentionally because of a certain reason. And then it's like, wow, this is even better than I thought it would be. So it's almost it's tough to like have a specific rubric for someone to go through and say like, yes, this satisfies all it's one of the things where it's like, you listen to mu listening to music is probably another good example. It's

[00:23:01] like, is this song good? or is it bad? And it depends on who you ask. You could objectively say like, okay. Yeah. Well, the cord progression is in the key of E so that's, check mark.

[00:23:11] Um, yes,

[00:23:13] Joel: whatever, right? Like, like this is algorithmically good versus something that, that has soul.

[00:23:17] Matt D. Smith: and and so, like, I think music is probably a really good example because some people love a certain song. Some people hate a certain song, but whether or not someone likes it or not it could algorithmically all of those those check marks. So it's like, I mean, it's kind of a, smoke and mirrors when you're trying to determine whether or not something. Good. And as it relates to design. I am objectively trying to, check these things off in my list, but also like trying to, it, I'll never get away from my personal opinion about whether or not I think something is. Is good or not, even if, I've seen things that are, that look amazing, but it's like, it actually looks like you might have kind of ripped off this other brand a little bit. And

[00:23:59] Joel: I was gonna. Like one of the drawbacks to, to this algorithmic approach where this is objectively good. According to the algorithm is now every single startup's landing page looks the exact same and flows the exact same way and uses the same, like illustration style and same color palettes. And it's like, you get the same, which you see in music too, right?

[00:24:18] Like, okay, this is what a hit looks like. So keep making. And like you remove that aspect that, that advancement where like, like a challenging design or a challenging song and you listen to it the first time and you're like, Ooh, no, no thanks. But you listen to it the fifth time and you're like, oh, okay.

[00:24:33] Okay. And you start to feel it. And then like, how do you achieve that? Or even impart that onto others would be a, that's a lifelong challenge. Probably

[00:24:40] Matt D. Smith: Totally. And I think it, I think, yeah I think that's really where the music I don't know, analogy comes to life because you can almost track any decade of music. And there's usually like a pivotal moment where I'm I, when you said, when you were talking about songs, I was immediately thinking of like, the hair band power ballads of the eighties.

[00:25:01] And I'm like, this is how this is a band in the eighties, then all of a sudden Nirvana comes along and they're like way different grungy. And then all of a sudden alternative music is born and now everyone's doing that. I think, maybe they were all checking their own algorithmic boxes. Yeah, I think there is a certain amount of personal taste. I think we look for, even in design, I think being able to express personality of either yourself or a brand or a product in a

[00:25:27] genuine way. I think that is what makes you know, great design in addition to all of the fundamentals, if you're able to project that in a way that represents.

[00:25:38] Personality in a way. Cause I think, you wouldn't necessarily say this is the ideal type of human being. They are, this gender, this height, this, cause I I think

[00:25:49] Joel: problematic.

[00:25:50] Matt D. Smith: Extremely. And I think the same thing would apply to, maybe design, maybe music. I think, you're not ever, you'll never make something that applies and. Works for everyone. And I think, yeah it's that interesting of objective and subjective kind of coming together the same way that two people might not get along that well, but then they both have their own best friends that they, hit it off with really easily.

Success stories

[00:26:17] Joel: Have you seen any sort of like outside of their designs? Look good. Have you had any inspiring success stories come out of students that have taken shift nudge?

[00:26:25] Matt D. Smith: Oh, yeah, definitely. I've had so when I first started, I started reaching out to a bunch of the beta students for like, Hey, what are you do you I basically started kind of trying to like inquire if anyone had anything decent to say about the course. And a lot of people were just posting stuff, slack, like, oh, I love thing.

[00:26:44] And this thing. But I had one guy in particular was reaching out to me and he was like, Hey, I've always been a designer. but now that I'm adding UI and visual design to my arsenal, I'm up for like a, I think he said he was up for like a salary increase

[00:27:00] $20,000 because now he could, effectively do this.

[00:27:04] And then he a, he was able to use that in another interview and he was able. I think he told me he ended up making like $50,000 more at another job

[00:27:11] than than he was previously. And he attributed it to his new, like UI skills, because previously he was like user research, wire frame, only kind of that's always the one that stood out to me just because it had a, it's easy to. Put a dollar amount. So I was like, Hey, that's quite the return on the investment, but I've got like, I have this the page on my website. If you go to shift, nudge.com/reviews, it's maybe a little outdated, but I, anytime I got testimonial, I would put it on here and. It was just like, it became almost like fuel for me to finish the full course. Cause I was like, okay, whenever I think this sucks,

[00:27:50] I can come back and read what I copied and pasted from one of my slack messages. And I'm like, okay, this is not the worst thing I've ever done in my life. I'm actually, because I guess it's easy to like look at a polished landing page and think, oh, they really have it together.

[00:28:05] Matt's doing, amazing. But. You're still human. You still have self doubt and you're you need some like encouragement. So, yeah, that's where I kind of keep my library of

[00:28:14] Joel: When you need a little boost, like just to get you over the finish line and be like, this is good people like it, it's fine. Keep going.

[00:28:20] Matt D. Smith: Yeah.

Testing and taking in feedback

[00:28:20] Joel: So you mentioned beta students, and I think that's really interesting. And I was wondering, how did you test this course? And how did the feedback from actual students maybe change your design or alter what you had originally assumed a, about the course.

[00:28:34] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. So I think I decided pretty early on, that I wanted to do like kind of a limited quantity beta student group. And I also decided early on that I wanted them to be paying. Customers

[00:28:48] As beta students. Because I had, I created a, I did create another course back in like 2015 or so, and I had a beta group, but it was like, anyone could join if they wanted to.

[00:28:59] I did just Hey, you can sign up for this week and you can join. I think it, it felt like it kind of fizzled out. And I knew that if I had paying customers, they would give me real feedback because they put their money and invested it. So I decided to do kind of a simple landing page. I charged for it. And I only let, I think I said I was gonna do, like, I was gonna like open it up for a couple of weeks. and either the time was gonna close and then I would just begin the beta then, or I would close it if up to a hundred people joined. And so I actually, the very first time I did it, I had a hundred people join before the enrollment even ended.

[00:29:37] So I just shut it

[00:29:38] down. And then was like, oh my gosh. Like for one, it, it's okay, this might be a viable business. Number two people are interested and also they're excited about, joining this. So we all get in a slack group together and I committed to, to basically reviewing every single student's work myself and giving either written or video feedback on everyone's work.

[00:30:03] And I didn't realize how much of a how a time intense that would.

[00:30:08] Joel: Quite the chore.

[00:30:09] Matt D. Smith: and and if, you've dug around in the course, you can see the critique vault is kind of like a never ending sea of loom videos of like reviewing students' work. And so the way I had it, I had basically come up with a fairly tight curriculum based on my previous, like reaching out to people, asking. People things, I would send people my outline and kind of try to get feedback. And then I had a, I would say I had about of the course recorded and then maybe only a half of that actually edited and ready to view. And so I, and that was actually the, one of the reasons why I started using notion because I was like, how am I gonna, I don't wanna transfer all of this undone material to some teaching When it's not quite even ready and I'm not ready to like invest in this new platform and commit to something else. Cuz notion was working really well as just a way to organize my thoughts and to create pages and subpages really quickly. So I was like, I'm just gonna add all of these beta students as guests to the notion workspace. I can like change things really quickly. They can leave comments. If something's confusing, they can like write a, they can either message me in slack or make a comment in notion. And I can either answer their question or I can like change the content on the fly to make it more applicable, to clarify any points that might have been confusing in the video. And so during that beta period, people were, going through, I would let them know like, Hey, module four is now available. I got all the videos done. And people would, they would go in and they would make comments on certain things and say, Hey, what did you mean right here? When you said, system fonts, can you explain that a little bit more?

[00:31:45] And I'm like, oh, okay. I need to actually go a little bit more into detail. Because like, you're, there's always the idea that you're cursed with knowledge. So you kind of forget that there might be some things that people don't know.

[00:31:56] Joel: beginner's

[00:31:56] Matt D. Smith: Uh, the beginning of, yeah. It's like what are system fonts?

[00:31:59] I don't know. I didn't know. San Francisco was only available on the, on iOS or Mac and not on Microsoft, whatever. So like little things like that, I would, I was able to go in and update the content and, if maybe I missed Mo most of the pages, the lessons, they have a big video, 15 to 20 minutes and then. Most of them also have like all the written content that I gathered in preparation for that lesson as well. So I I didn't bother going in and like changing a bunch of the videos. I would just go in and add supplemental material in the written section. And that way I was able to, even if someone asked me a question later, I could at least link them to that section. And I even, I ended up making another couple of lessons based on. I kept getting questions about like layout issue or even as I was reviewing student work on the layout module, I was like, man I'm finding myself explaining this concept over and over in a lot of the reviews.

[00:32:52] And I, I didn't have a lesson on it. So I created a brand new lesson called layout connectors, and I just a little bit of a rougher, like loom video as like in response to. Everyone's work that I was reviewing. And then I would, so I'd kind of think of the material as like a little bit of a living breathing document that I can keep updating, or I might find an interesting or tweet thread and it really relates, to color or type font, whatever, and then paste it in there. That way it's just kind of constantly being updated and somewhat more relevant than it would be otherwise.

[00:33:25] Joel: Has that feedback loop slowed down over time.

[00:33:28] Matt D. Smith: Yeah, it definitely, it has slowed down. And I don't know if it's, I don't know if it's because the content has become more polished or if the, maybe the, when I had the a hundred beta students, it was like very personal.

[00:33:42] It was like, we were all in one big group and I would chat with them every day. And now when the new en enrollments. Come in. It's a, there's like a little bit more of a disconnect between the students and myself just simply because I do not have the physical bandwidth and the time to invest.

[00:33:58] And new students as I did when it was a much smaller group.


[00:34:01] Joel: You're bringing in design advisors now. So you're bringing in third parties to kind of handle some of that. And I was curious, has that how's that worked out and how did you know, like, how did you even start to think about bringing other people into your house?

[00:34:12] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. So like I said, with the students that signed up for the beta group, I was doing it all myself. And then I actually was planning to release the public course, uh, in like March of 2020. But I think anyone who lived through March of 2020 knows that was a little bit of a hectic time. And I was like, there is no way I could possibly promote and an online course online during, protest, coronavirus, presidential stuff. And so I decided to do a second beta group and I. Basically committed to another a hundred students to my surprise. And then, so I had a, for almost all of 2020, I was doing nothing but trying to finish a course and also, student reviews and I was just completely swamped.

[00:35:01] my like public launch was coming up soon and I didn't promote that.

[00:35:05] I was gonna give feedback on everyone's work. But one of the mistakes I made when I recorded the course, I think I was in the mindset that, it was like, Hey, I'm here, post a video in slack, post your work in slack. I'd love to check it out. I'd love to review it. And that's just not the case.

[00:35:21] Like, I, I cannot, I don't have the time to review everyone's work. That's getting posted. And I almost went back and like reedited, the end of every video, that was one of the mistakes I made was. Trying to, let people know that, Hey, I'm gonna be checking out your work every time you post it worked up front.

[00:35:37] But then like when I had my first public enrollment, I was like it, the slack channels where people were supposed to post their homework it seemed like, like a water hose got left on overnight and it flooded the That's what those channels felt like to me. And

[00:35:50] I didn't even wanna look at it. And so that's when I started thinking, I need to bring somebody else on. I've gotta get somebody in here, like giving some reviews. And it was a, it was really helpful to have, someone else come on. My, my first hire was this guy, Michael Tering. He did amazing. I did like this huge interview process. I gave people like mock, homework to critique in video form. And I would was like giving them Amazon gift cards just for doing it,

[00:36:19] to try to find the, just the right person. This is a incredibly long explanation. I'll

[00:36:23] Joel: No. I'm really curious about the details and I love the idea of hiring and hiring people in the interview process is really quite interesting and aligns with. Yeah. That's how I hire also. So.

[00:36:33] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. So I I basically was like, all right, Michael, check out this slack channel, like, don't get too scared. There is a pieces of homework and like, I don't care if you do loom videos. I don't care if you do wanna do written content. I just want these students to feel like they have someone they can, hear from. And so for it took maybe like two or three months of him working every day or every week, at least to get in there and kind of like. Catch everyone up and at least give everyone like a piece of feedback. And then I was like, oh man, this is great. I'm gonna get like, I'm gonna get like six more design advisors, maybe on a much, like, I think Michael was doing roughly 20 hours a week for

[00:37:11] And I was like, maybe I could get like six more design advisors doing like maybe five hours a week or so. And so I did another big kind of like hiring outreach, and I wanted it to be like a very, a very diverse amount of advisors, both in terms of not me and Michael or both white dudes.

[00:37:32] So I was like, that's enough for that for now. And I also wanted to get like freelancers people. I had someone who was a product designer at Facebook. Someone else who was at an agency, just a good mix of like really solid. Approach from all angles, advising on design cause everyone has, slightly different angle in which they're gonna, give feedback.

[00:37:51] And so in my

[00:37:52] mind, this was like, perfect. And so like for the second enrollment, I was actually actively promoted. You'll get feedback from all these design advisors and I have everyone listed out and And it was, I thought it was gonna be great, but what it did was it actually poured gasoline on a problem that I thought I had solved.

[00:38:12] Joel: The water hose turned into a fire

[00:38:14] Matt D. Smith: oh my, Yeah.

Expectations raised too high

[00:38:14] Matt D. Smith: it was, it wasn't water pouring into my backyard. It was actually gasoline. And then this new plan of mine was like a lighter. And and so all of a sudden, everyone is like posting even more. Their expectations are even higher. And I made it like really nonchalant for the advisors. I'm like, yeah.

[00:38:33] Come in. I want you to basically, it was

[00:38:35] like, I want you to try to do, roughly 10 or 15 student reviews each week. It, you can do video whatever, but there was no real like system in place. It was basically just students posting their work into a never ending feed of like slack update. And I did have channels broken down into like modules and then it just became almost like unwieldy. It was like, no one could tell what was going on. None of the advisors knew if another advisor had already begun reviewing someone's work. None of the students knew when their work was gonna get reviewed.

[00:39:10] Everything was getting lost in the mix. And then I had like, some advisors needed to like take a two month break. Another one was like, oh, actually I can't be an advisor anymore. and I was like, oh my gosh, this is an absolute wildfire. And so I made a decision after six months. Actually it might have been three or four months.

[00:39:29] I made this big announcement video, and this really like as heartfelt of an apology as I could. And I even told people in the slack group, I was like, if anyone. We're way past the 30 day money back guarantee here. But I realize that some of you might have signed up just because you wanted all this feedback. So if anyone here, wants to reach out to me and get a full refund, like, I don't have any problem with that. Just want to, just let everybody know, like, this is what I was expecting. This is what happened and I'm apologize for this result because it was not what I intended. And so basically I was like, okay, at the end of June of, I think it was 20, 21, I'm basically stopping all design advising because it's just not working

[00:40:10] at And so I decided to create a new design advisor program. That was actually a, it's like $99 a month currently. And it had like extremely rigid rules. Like you can submit one to two pieces of work each week through this Google form. And that goes into a notion database. And now my design advisors can check off whether they are reviewing it or not. And now that I have like, and I try to do the math based on like how many students, the advisor could re review and how much money that would cost me versus how much it would cost the student. And. So that, that has solved a lot of the issues. other than it's I think it's probably, I don't even think, I know that it's costing me more money than it's making.

[00:40:53] I'm actually losing money on doing that right now. And so, but it's been such a. It was almost like, just thank God this nightmare is over. So I'm just gonna like, let this ride out for a little while. Cause I think that there's a lot of intrinsic value in like having the ability to get someone to review your work.

[00:41:09] Joel: When you turn on the gasoline fire hose, it also prompts you to really reconsider your systems. And how are you gonna adjust that? And it was like you had unforeseen consequences from making promises that were difficult to deliver without a system in place. And now you've learned.

[00:41:21] That you can do that. And like, like now you can decide, do I wanna charge more for this? Is it worth keeping, I could charge more and actually make it, maybe it's profitable. And this is a

[00:41:30] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. Like it's, it's like maybe almost breaking even which is totally fine. I really wanted this to be, valuable for the students and I know for a fact if you have someone who is more experienced than you reviewing your work and giving you pointers, I mean, that is the ultimate

[00:41:46] for advancing

[00:41:48] Joel: you're gonna get better quicker.

[00:41:49] Matt D. Smith: a absolutely.

[00:41:50] And so I, cause I, I want people coming outta shift nudge to be amazing designers, cause that's kind of what they signed up for. And I want to be able to say like, Hey yeah, check out their work. Now they went through the course and this is what their work looks like now.

[00:42:02] Joel: Yeah.

[00:42:02] Matt D. Smith: So if people aren't getting better, then you know, then I'm not a good job with the content.

[00:42:07] So, but yeah, that's been a pretty big learning experience for the whole design advisor thing. And I think there's so many more directions. You could take that with live cohorts instead of like monthly month to month design advising. Something that I would be interested in exploring in the future, but yeah it's there's yeah it's been a lot.

[00:42:27] And so I've enjoyed like letting things simmer down and have a, and finalizing the system

[00:42:34] a A little bit better before I, venture into a new thing.

[00:42:37] Joel: If you were gonna make a new, large scale course, would you use notion again today?

Using Notion as a course platform

[00:42:40] Matt D. Smith: I probably would.

[00:42:43] Joel: I mean, there's other, like there's teachables and podiums and all the way up to it, including like hiring a development team and designing your own platform, which I feel like would be something that, that would pull at you a little bit, but you didn't do that instead. You've used notion and I think that's interesting.

[00:42:57] It was the first time I had ever seen anybody use notion to deliver a course. And I was like, oh my gosh. And since taking your course, we are using notion as a beta testing ground. Courses cuz it is like really great for that. But then like going all in and saying, this is my course platform that we're not quite there yet, but I think it's really fascinating.

[00:43:15] And curious about that experience.

[00:43:17] Matt D. Smith: Yeah, I think that notion is not great for. Larger more scalable courses, things that you would want to scale their API still does not work with like automated invites. So every single person that has ever joined shift nudge, I have manually added them to the notion guest list. And that's

[00:43:40] been quite the, quite the task.

[00:43:42] I'm still doing that myself every single time. And, but what's funny is. When I built when I did my first course in 2015, before I launched that course, I also designed and developed my own course platform.

[00:43:55] Joel: Yeah. So you bend down that road.

[00:43:57] Matt D. Smith: yeah. I went down that road and I had a developer partner because I'm not a backend

[00:44:01] Joel: Yeah. At some point you gotta have a database if you're doing that. So.

[00:44:04] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. Yeah. We had this and we had a really sweet little system. it's still a great, like the student experience. It was like tracking progress. It was a great little, like student experience, but it didn't handle like chargeback it, like all the things that

[00:44:21] go along with like some kind of credit card processing thing was just like a nightmare. And yeah, so I, there was a lot that I needed from my end on the

[00:44:30] admin side. And I was like, I can't bug my developer every time I need this tiny little change push to the code And I think that's what I think that's what led me to using notion was because I had that experience last time and I tried to get so automated and so fancy and so technical and so complex with my system that I lost sight of, traffic and customers and,

[00:44:56] Joel: you get bogged down into the building, your platform and building your system and the technical aspects, cuz it's kind of fun in some ways. And

[00:45:02] Matt D. Smith: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

[00:45:03] Joel: it's a trade off and you're detracting from something else you could be spending time

[00:45:06] Matt D. Smith: for sure. And it was like, as a designer who loves to build things, I'm like, man, this is great. This is such a cool, let, how, how, I'm writing all the front end code and I'm just like having a blast. I'm like, wait a second. This is I'm losing focus here. But then we were like, oh yeah, we could, maybe we'll turn this into software and then we'll try to find, but that's like,

[00:45:23] Joel: Oh, now you're gonna white label it and distribute it.

[00:45:26] Matt D. Smith: And we went down that road a little bit too. And then ultimately just kind of was like, this is not working out. I really just want to get a successful course going first. And then I did that kind of desire to build some kind of like course platform. Was still kind of like flicker in the back of my mind, but I'm not sure if I'll ever want to go down that road or not.

[00:45:45] Joel: Well, that's what I was wondering too. Now that you have like fully vetted shift nudge, like you've gone through all this feedback loop, you've had all this is shift, nudge, gonna stay on notion, or would you be tempted to like evolve that into, to something else? Or, like the, I guess, or work on something new.

[00:46:01] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. I think, I think that uh, If notion added a number of features that made it maybe easier to manage the kind of like the people who could view

[00:46:13] Joel: Like, like feedback, like even the feedback stuff, like, like you can't get that level of integration. That might be nice for your learners. Yeah.

Thinking about what a custom platform would look like for Shift Nudge

[00:46:20] Matt D. Smith: things and uh, right. Yeah. So there, I think, I think for for what I did and what I'm doing now, it's still working. And I'm I feel like it's a bit of like scotch tape and bubble gum right now, but that's okay. and I think if I, I'm definitely planning to I, always wanted shift nudge to be more of like the umbrella brand for new things. And so eventually I will likely, come out with a new course under the shift nudge brand, but maybe the course that's now known as shift nudge. Maybe it gets a new name. Or maybe it just it's called visual design and there's another one called whatever. And so I think as that stuff starts to scale, it could, I mean, I know for sure it'll get more complex. But gosh, I don't think I want to go down the route of like building and developing my own software cuz that's just a lot

[00:47:06] Joel: It is a lot. It's super expensive too. And then you're maintaining that software over time fighting software entropy and all that fun stuff that, that goes along with custom software. And I didn't understand that when I was a consultant, but for the last 10 years I've been paying, like writing checks for custom software.

[00:47:20] And you're like, wow, this is very expensive.

[00:47:23] Matt D. Smith: Yes, totally.

[00:47:25] Joel: And you're doing that instead of focusing on the teaching and the kind of the, like it, it's involved, everything's interweaved, but like the student outcomes. Right. And if you can achieve student outcomes inside of a system, like notion that you don't have to also maintain then like,

[00:47:37] Matt D. Smith: Yeah. I've thought I've thought about doing other things that would maybe the student experience more than, my own experience of like hosting a course. Like I thought about maybe I'll come up with some, maybe I'll get a developer to help me build some like really cool. A certificate of completion authentication system.

[00:47:55] And there's maybe like maybe we do like embedded certificates or some kind of like interactive thing that would be like cool and fun. That like would be like a way that students could show off their certificates, as opposed to me just sending them some PDFs. So little things like that would be a little bit more bite size, but I think that would add a lot more value at least to the student experience as opposed to. Switching platforms, cuz they're gonna be watching videos and reading content, no matter where the HTML is

[00:48:21] Joel: Yeah, it's yeah, exactly. Like it's a webpage and notion is pretty good at building webpages, even though you can instantly nest them and they get confusing. If you are unfettered, you are using it in a constrained way. That makes a lot of sense. I think. Matt. Thank you so much for taking the time out.

[00:48:35] Thank you for creating shift nudge. It's helped me. It's helped my team and I know it's helped lots more people and we love it and love that you've created this and brought it into the world. So, so thank you so much. And again, thank you for hanging out with me today.

[00:48:47] Matt D. Smith: Oh, thank you for having me. It's been awesome.

[00:48:49] Joel: Cheers.

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